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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 27 October 2006
This book is a masterpiece for me. It accompanied me throughout a long journey that I took in Europe in the past. It is written in a poetic way that makes you think, reflect and enter into the fantastic world of the invisible cities of Kublai Khan's empire, created by Calvino. Marco Polo works for the Khan. He has to visit many towns of the Mongolian empire so that later he can share his impressions with the great Khan. This is mainly because the empire is so big that Kublai Khan would never be able to visit all towns of his empire.

Each chapter has the name of a town, which is described by Marco Polo. In addition, there are many dialogs between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo that are, in my point of view, the most exciting part of the book. The dialogs are so intelligent and stimulating that I read some of them many times. They can trigger our natural curiosity about the way we see things around us, the future, the past, the present, etc. It is a book to be read in a slow pace so we can reflect upon each part. It helped me to slow down my frequently rushed rhythm of life. How conscious are we while we write the pages of our lives?
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on 14 February 2001
A book that describes every imaginery city, every city that you have ever visited, every city that you have ever wanted to visit or imagine, or the city you have come from which you wish to be as you imagined it to be...this is a book about the language of the imagination, a book of cities as pychological states, physical states, sensory states...A book about descriptions ? Yes. But descriptions that have a transcendant quality. Not much narrative ? True, but yet they contain fragments of narrative that have an extraordinary quality, about place, and what place means to us all. Calvino was a truely great novelist, one of the great European novelists of this century, on par with Beckett..yet less bleak, no less universal. This is one, if not the best, of his "books". If you like this also try "If on an invisible night" and "Mr Paloma".

If you like to combine "thought-provoking" with sensual - a very unusual and wonderful combination.
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on 10 May 2004
Before reading this novel, you must note one thing - there is no plot whatsoever. Despite what the blurb says about Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, that is simply a framework, a structure to hold a series of highly impressionistic descriptions of cities together. The book covers a remarkable range of ideas - death, life, religion and relationships to name but four. However, the lack of plot does not make it any less worthwhile nor any less literary - the prose is lush and poetic, lucid and evocative, and it would be hard not to be captivated by Calvino's remarkable style. Inventive, enlessly imaginative, extremely experimental, Calvino created a beautiful and memorable book - in effect, Calvino wrote the plotless novel.
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on 30 August 2009
Don't believe the hype. I know that Calvino became famous in the States with If on a Winter Night... but this is his real masterpiece. Witty, poetic, visionary, elegantly written (and well translated). Calvino's idea of a city, or of the possible cities. The dream of cities, whatever we can find in cities. It's a deep book, it's an engrossing reading, it's a dream, it's a tale, it's a yarn, it's absolutely true. To me, this is the book that Calvino was born to write, and the one you have to read to really understand why Calvino will remain.
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on 15 September 2010
I am only partway through Invisible Cities but, because I am a bit of an odd ball, I decided to type it into google and see what people had to say about it (you know theories, ideas, reviews and the like)and felt compelled to make a review having read some.

For me there is something so hauntingly beautiful about Calvino's words that it really gets under my skin. There's something that really gives the gut a good twist with this book that evokes a strange mix of longing for the future and helpless nostalgia for the past.

For me.

I understand why some won't like this book. There's no definite plot, no heros to follow, just an aimless drifting through some potentially non-existent cities broken up by some narrative between two men, possibly high and possibly not even speaking to one another. I can understand that it is boring for some; that it doesn't have much point, even that it can come across as quite pretentious.

What annoys me is that some of those who have turned their nose up at this book seem to feel that all the other reviewers who have read and enjoyed it are all rather pretentious and are desperately attempting to appear more well read and intelligent than they are.

Why? Because it's under Vintage Classics??

I know I'm not particularly intelligent or well read, and to be honest I don't really understand it, I just enjoy the words.

I agree that this is not ideal for those looking for a conventional story...or well, a story at all. However this isn't just a book for 'polite folk;' if you enjoy travelling, or dream of travelling, or are just stuck floating along somewhere and you like beautiful imagery I'd definately recommend Invisible Cities. The only thing that has prevented me from giving it a five star is that I haven't finished reading it yet....

Smiley face.
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on 3 January 2007
This is truly the work of a genius: Calvino's imagination here exceeds the normal limits of poetic prose, and the beauty of this book is near limitless.

However, it is possible that you will not feel the same about this book if you have never visited Venice. Calvino's beloved city is described hundreds of times over in "Invisible Cities", and for me each description was equally accurate, beautiful and stirring - so anyone without a knowledge of the manifold charms of Venice may miss the point of this book entirely, through no fault of their own.

So, since this book struck me on a particularly personal level, it's not necessarily recommended to all.

Oh, and on a point of information, I thought this was almost infinitely better than "If on a Winter's Night a Traveller...", which I found to be rather gimmicky and contrived. For me "Invisible Cities" was neither of these.
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on 15 July 1999
If you have ever experienced the magic of a city, here is a book that can guide you to its source. "Invisible Cities" contains some forty short sketches of arbitrarily named fantastic cities, placed in an order that is both meticulous and rambling. The sketches are put in the framework of a very loose dialogue between Marco Polo, who is the narrator of the sketches, and Kubla Khan, his impatient one-man audience. Frankly, I found the dialogue rather contrived at points, and not all the sketches manage to convey emotion along with the intellectual play of words. In my opinion, this is the chief problem with all Calvino's prose, and the problem is far less conspicuous here than in some of his other work. Definitely worth your attention if you like philosophical novels, or fantastic literature.
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Invisible Cities on Kindle

This book recounts conversations between the trader and explorer Marco Polo and the emperor Kublai Khan, about real and imagined cities. The book follows a strict mathematical structure, but it is decidedly unrealistic, at times a poetic and brilliantly described past, at times contemporary elements are dropped in. It is reminiscent of the Peter Greenaway short film A Walk Through H, and is perhaps best read as an elegant musing on the nature of cities and imagination.

Reviews of this book tend to fall into two camps, on the one hand it is a brilliant piece of writing that should have earned the author a Nobel Prize, on the other it is a formless pretentious piece of ostentatious modernism that just does not work.

I rather fall between the two camps, I read the whole book in half a dozen sessions, but my reaction alternated between the above two extremes. My initial impressions were amazement at just how good it was, the next time I read it, I was wondering just what had impressed me about it. It is certainly an impressive piece of writing, sitting with Pale Fire (Penguin Modern Classics) and A Void as bold experiments. However for most readers the test of a bold experiment is whether it remains readable, for me The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,Bad Day for the Sung Dynasty,The Following Story (Harvill Panther), and The Book of Sand and Shakespeare's Memory (Penguin Modern Classics) are equally bold but ultimately far more compelling. But each to their own, this is well worth reading, and it is the classic piece of modernist literature on cities.
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on 23 February 2004
Authors like Calvino (along with similar authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez) tend to produce extreme reactions in their readers - as evidenced by the reviews for this book, which range from one star to five.
This is predominantly due to the elusive nature of the text. Upon a swift first reading, "Invisible Cities", could be regarded as a pleasing collection of prose works on imaginary cities. It rapidly becomes clear however, that the book is larger in scope than this. Intended not merely as a descriptive work, but as a musing on the concept of city life and home (and belonging), the problems for reviewers begin primarily because parts of this book are very difficult to understand indeed.
Those that fail to notice (or understand) the deeper meanings of the book hold that it is an interesting if ultimately pointless exploration of the imagination (and give one star). Others who fail to understand the work assume that since Calvino is a widely respected author, he must know what he's talking about, and therefore opaqueness must be indicative of genius (and give five stars).
In actuality, the book is worthy of neither condemnation nor lavish praise. It contains some beautiful imaginary cities (sufficiently good for the book to be enjoyed simply on this basis alone) and some interesting concepts in relation to man's interaction not only with the people around him, but also his surroundings. However, some parts of the book seem overly pretentious (especially the latter conversations between Khan and Polo) and lack of clarity clouds Calvino's meaning to the point where it is impossible to tell if he is being very clever or wilfully unfathomable (to produce the former effect).
Overall, an enjoyable and thought-provoking book, evidencing both Calvino's evocative description and also his ability to confuse everyone around him! If you're new to Calvino, it's probably best to start with "If On A Winter's Night A Traveller", which is superior and easier to understand.
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on 26 April 2016
a wonderful book - A dream like imagining of many cities, or perhaps just one city seen from different perspectives, or all cities and their dark complexities, you can take from it whatever you like. A daydream on the nature of place and people. This is a short book, but a slow book, you cant rush through. Ideal for a traveller who needs to stop and think.
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